TELFORD VICE, Newlands
WHAT waits at Wanderers? After five enthralling days at Newlands, the question will burn until hostilities between SA and England resume in Johannesburg next Thursday.
The second test ended inconclusively an hour before the scheduled close on Thursday under thick clouds tumbling down from Table Mountain.
By then SA had served notice that they have awoken from the nightmare that has had them tossing and turning since the start of their test series in India in November.
They went into the Newlands match having lost four of their last five tests – most recently to England at Kingsmead last week.
But they have raised hopes they are not in as much disarray as they appeared to be just a few days ago.
SA were as feisty and enterprising for much of the second test as they were fragile for too much of the first.
England dominated in Durban to win by 241 runs. At Newlands, when bad light ended play with 31 overs unbowled on Thursday, the visitors were 161 runs ahead.
But they had also lost six wickets, a blow that will resonate into next week. Their top six had been removed for 110 runs between them, and no-one could score more than Jonny Bairstow’s unbeaten 30.
Their bowlers, too, have plenty to think about having spent more than 14-and-a-half hours in the field bowling 211 overs as SA steadily reeled in their first innings of 629/6. Their fielders dropped nine catches.
Then Hashim Amla issued a challenge and declared two runs behind: come on England.
Amla raised more questions than he answered as a captain, but that was an impressive move.
He could have allowed the innings to run its course and the match to dwindle into irrelevance. Instead, he reminded England who they were dealing with.
SA’s attack had looked out of their depth in the first innings. The four frontline bowlers, three of whom hold nine caps between them, each conceded more than 100 runs. Amla, too, was found wanting in his decision-making.
A stoic double century by Amla and a stirring maiden ton by Temba Bavuma earned SA first-innings parity, but that didn’t ease worries about their bowling.
So brows were unfurrowed on Thursday, when SA’s attack kept England under pressure throughout the 65 overs bowled. The high points were debutant Chris Morris nailing Joe Root’s off-stump with a breathtaking swinging yorker and Dane Piedt’s aggressively optimistic off-spin, which earned him 3/38.
And so to the Wanderers, where pitches do not often smile on batsmen looking to amass mine dumps of runs. That can be measured in double centuries. Sort of – six have been scored in the 53 Newlands tests, three in the 35 played at the Wanderers.
Twelve of the last 13 tests played there have been won and lost. The exception, against India in December 2013, was drawn because SA stopped chasing the target when their seventh wicket fell with 16 runs to get and 20 balls to get them with.
The Wanderers is no place for such timidity. It is to be hoped that SA have learnt that lesson.